Mark Schlabach, who typically does a pretty good job of analysis for ESPN, has his preseason Top 25 up with post spring-practice revisions. The thing that I found interesting about his rankings is that, if he is right, Alabama will face five teams in the top fifteen this year. That’s right five, and to make matters worse, four of the five will be faced outside of the friendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
I am learning quickly that it is much easier to tear someone else’s picks up than it is to make your own – that is unless you excuse some of them with your own personal bias. I am also aware that Schlabach’s picks will differ from what ends up becoming the actual preseason polls, but there are a couple of interesting things about his look into the crystal ball that are decent debate topics.
Schlabach has Georgia at number two, right behind his new number one, Ohio State, and it’s hard to argue with that pick. Alabama plays them in Athens and as I’ve already stated, I just don’t see the young Tide winning that game.
He puts Clemson in the seventh position and I concur, in as much as I believe they will be a consensus top ten. No one doubts the Tiger’s talent level but the interesting thing will be how their inexperienced offensive line comes together. I believe Clemson gets the benefit of the doubt that they belong in the top ten until they prove otherwise. Alabama plays them in the Georgia Dome, in a game that will draw a lot of national attention. I still think Clemson pulls this out because our defense will be inexperienced in this game and the first game is a great time to throw a few wrinkles in.
The first surprise of Schlabach’s rankings is found with Auburn in the tenth position. Even a homer like me finds it easy to imagine that Little Brother is a top twenty-five team, but tenth? They have two brand new coordinators and I just don’t think a team gets that kind of benefit coming off a less than stellar season. With the imminent decline of LSU this year, there is little doubt that Auburn has a great chance to win the West and play for an SEC Championship, but they have to prove that first. All admitted partiality aside, Auburn’s personnel are going to have to prove they have adapted to the new systems and leaders before I would rank them number ten to start the year. Seventeen to twenty-two, no problem, but not number ten. Alabama gets a good opportunity to end the streak at six when the Plainsmen visit T-Town the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
LSU finds themselves at number twelve in Mark’s preseason rankings. With a new defensive coordinator and the loss of their only relatively experienced, but fairly capable quarterback, it’s hard to give them the nod at twelve. They are the defending national champion and do have some talent coming back so I suppose that’s a decent place to start them, but we’ll see how the year unfolds. I’ve got a feeling it will be the purple and gold clad fans that are bitching about their own coach, rather than Alabama’s, mid-way through the year this season. But once again, until they prove otherwise, they get approval at number twelve. Thinking about the game in Baton Rouge on the second Saturday in November gets me excited even now, months ahead of time.
Alabama’s final opponent in Schlabach’s top twenty-five is probably the most troubling to me, especially in light of some of the comments I got about my preseason picks; he has the Volunteers at number fifteen. That’s third in the SEC East but still giving them a lot more credit than slipping in to Atlanta as co-champion of the East last year merits. First of all they have a new offensive coordinator. The same arguments that I had for Auburn come into play here but what makes me skeptical of the Vols this season isn’t the new coordinator, it’s the old one. Jon Chavis is leading a defense that has been depleted by the graduation and early entry into the NFL. The vaunted Vol defense was ninth or worse in the conference in every major defensive category last season: tenth in scoring defense (27.3 pts/game), 11th in pass defense (238.6 yrds/game), 9th in rush defense (164.6 yrds/game), and 11th in total defense (403.3 yrds/game). The secondary and tackle positions are the only positions with relative depth and the author of their spring outlook speaks of the need for the offense to carry the load as the defense rebuilds. First of all that puts a lot of pressure on a relatively inexperienced quarterback (I’m sure the staff will work to diminish that) and there is also the adjustment to the new system, which is pretty different to the old one and second of all, it is certainly not the type of football that Tennessee fans have come to expect. If the wins don’t come quick to sate the hungry masses, things will get pretty dicey in Knoxville. Either way, when Alabama comes to call on the Third Fourth Saturday in October, there will be a lot on the line.
I can’t wait for football season.